Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Depth - Custom Hybrid Stays

Custom Alice Stays

This is a set of custom hybrid stays, with a conical 18th century top half, but a flared bottom like a Victorian corset.  I haven't had a chance to photograph it on a person yet, but I'll post pictures after its debut at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival this weekend.

Rather than just show the final pictures, here's an idea of what goes on in the studio to make a new design.

Initial Design:
These stays are designed for a character named Alice I play at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival.  My debut costuming had woven ribbon on the front and back, and it became an iconic part of the character’s costume.

(Really sorry about the bad photos)
Year one was a flat front bodice.  It did very little shaping, and was essentially there to hold my shirt in and push my breasts up.  Anyone who works a festival knows the beating your costuming takes, so after two seasons my bodice was in desperate need of replacing.  My new one was in a corset style.  The woven ribbon stayed in a bright red (the photo shows the red as orange).  As you can see from the second photo, the ribbon section likes to shift around, as it’s a large section only attached around the edges.
The only functional problem with the corset style is a slight restriction on movement.  I love long line corsets, so that’s what I made, but I forgot how active I am at festival.  Dancing, sword fighting, sitting on the ground, bending and kneeling, and a hundred other unusual movements a day.  99% of those activities were fine, but getting up off the ground after sitting for lunch was like a turtle rolling on its back.  So, time for another new bodice.
Lately I’ve been fascinated with 18th century stays.  I’ve been spending too many hours oogling museum photos (http://flic.kr/p/9AdqCshttp://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80005962,http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115752/stays-unknown/), and kept combing through Corsets and Crinolines.  So it was set, my new festival bodice would be conical stays.
The only problem is I have a large hip spring.  I am by no means a small girl; I have a natural 12” hip spring before any compression of my waist.  I’ve worn Elizabethan stays before, and they dig in pretty uncomfortably.  Also, I end up with a very unflattering roll of fat that gets squeezed out just below my waist, so I look like I’m wearing a bumroll backwards.  Altogether, not a good time.
I debated briefly whether the boned tabs would be comfortable enough for me, and decided against them.  Most of my corseting experience is in Victorian corsets, and I absolutely love the graceful sweep over the hips.  I figured there had to be a way to keep the conical look above the waist and have a solid flared bottom, so that’s what I’d do.
Now, for the re-cap:
Woven ribbon center front and back
Easy to move in
Supports breasts (I play a wench, so good cleavage is a must)
Conical top
Flared hip
Laces up center back and sides (I fluctuate weight during a 5 week run, and being able to adjust the lacing in three places gives the bodice a better chance of keeping up with that)
Did I mention sturdy?

Drafting notes:
So, armed with this list of must-haves, I sketched out a basic design using pgs 40 and 42 from Corsets and Crinolines and the Brown Jean Corset from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques as guides.  Then I made a computer layout and kept the basic shape while tailoring it to my measurements.
I far prefer this method to using someone else’s patterns.  I find it gets better fits, and makes the pattern more easily adjustable.  However, it takes a lot of practice.
So I printed my pattern and got to making my toile.  I made the toile lace up the center front, so I could get into and out of it myself, and drew out a half boned pattern onto the fabric by freehand.  All of the stitching was done in red on my black twill to give contrast. I believe very strongly in fully boning and grommeting mock ups.  Anything less, and you won’t get any real idea of how the final project will fit.

Mock up photos:
And here’s where I learned new things.

Mock up of Custom Alice Stays

Mock up of Custom Alice Stays

Mock up of Custom Alice Stays

1)      I hadn’t added enough hip flare.  My waist corsets down a frightening 7-8 inches without being the slightest bit uncomfortable.  Part of that is due to my rib-cage, which naturally shapes like a V.  Part of it is how long I’ve been wearing corsets.  Mostly, it’s probably that I’m overweight, and it’s all squishy fat.  So, I hadn’t accounted for the amount the hips would have to flare after my waist got pulled in.  Oops!

2)      I’m an ample woman, and the stays didn’t have enough fabric to keep me decent after my breasts had been pushed up.

3)      The single vertical bone running between boning clusters directly under my breast needed to be reinforced.

4)      Because of the boning across the chest, I couldn’t fit the top grommet on the front side.  I didn’t want to just shorten the boning, so a slight pattern re-work was in order.

5)      The shoulder straps were way too long.

6)      I made the front far too long to be active in.  The length on the hips was fine, but sitting and bending forward became… interesting.

Armed with this knowledge I dove back into the computer.  One more round of edits, and I was off to the races.  I should have printed them out and built another toile, but I suffer from the same eager condition most other seamstresses do.

Construction Photos:
Since I was including the woven ribbon, I divided the front and back pieces into sections.  Some would be made into ribbon sections, some sewn with the black dupioni the rest of the stays were made from.

Custom Alice Stays

Weaving the ribbon takes almost as long as making the rest of the costume.  I’m a stickler for details, so each ribbon had to meet up exactly at right angles with no extra room between ribbons.  There’s a spot on the back of the finished piece where I flubbed it that only I notice, but drives me crazy.
Custom Alice Stays

Custom Alice Stays
You can see a slight change in boning pattern.  It’s boned with a mix of artificial whalebone and spring steel.  All of the seams are bound, as you commonly find in conical stays.
I pulled out the shoulder straps entirely.  Half round pieces on the shoulders and bust provide me a place to run ribbon between.

Finished Stays:
And here it is!  It's being displayed on a Victorian mannequin, so the front isn’t as round as it will be.  There are more pictures on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/tailoroftwocities

Custom Alice Stays

Custom Alice Stays

Custom Alice Stays

Custom Alice Stays

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